The history of Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty is complex. When Grotius’s personal papers were auctioned in The Hague in 1864, scholars discovered that Mare Liberum was just one chapter in a manuscript of 163 folios, written in justification of the capture of the Portuguese merchantman Santa Catarina in the Strait of Singapore in February 1603. Robert Fruin persuaded the scholar H. G. Hamaker to transcribe and publish it in 1868.
Knud Haakonssen, the General Editor of the Natural Law and Enlightenment Classics series, states, “Grotius’s work on the right of prize and booty is unusual. It has been argued in some of the most prominent recent scholarship that the work, while never published by Grotius himself, was the intellectual resource for much of his most important work. One chapter of the manuscript was used for his famous work on the free sea, Mare Liberum, and many of the most important features of his greatest work, De Jure Belli ac Pacis (The Rights of War and Peace), are either derived from, or revised versions of, the earlier writing.”
The Liberty Fund edition is based on the one prepared by Gwladys L. Williams and Walter H. Zeydel for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. It combines the original text and new material.
"Prolegomena, Including Nine Rules and Thirteen Laws
Where should we begin, if not at the very beginning? Accordingly, let us give first place and pre-eminent authority to the following rule: What God has shown to be His Will, that is law. This axiom points directly[5′] to the cause of law, and is rightly laid down as a primary principle.
It would seem, indeed, that the very term ius [law] is derived from Iovis [ Jove] and that the same process of derivation holds good for iurare [to swear] andiusiurandum [an oath] or Iovisiurandum [an oath in the name of Jove]. Alternatively, one might trace the development of these terms to the fact that the ancients designated as iusa —that is to say iussa [things commanded]—those precepts which we designate as iura [laws]. In any case, the act of commanding is a function of power, and primary power over all things pertains to God, in the sense that power over his own handiwork pertains to the artificer and power over inferiors, to their superiors.
Ausonius has declared that, “Law is the unerring mind of God.” This was the sentiment that inspired Orpheus—and after him, all the old poets —to say that Themis and Diké [Right and Justice] were the judicial assessors of Jove; whence Anarchus has correctly inferred (even though he does put the conclusion to an improper use) that a given thing is just because God wills it, rather than that God wills the thing because it is just. According to the somewhat more subtle contention of Plutarch, however, the goddesses Right and Justice are not so much the assessors of Jove, as Jove himself is Right and Justice, and the most ancient and perfect of all laws. It is the latter view that Chrysippus also adopts when he asserts that Jove is the name given to “that force inherent in the constant and eternal law, which guides our lives, so to speak, and instructs us in our duties.”
Hugo Grotius (10 April 1583 – 28 August 1645), also known as Huig de Groot, Hugo Grocio or Hugo de Groot, was a jurist in the Dutch Republic. With Francisco de Vitoria and Alberico Gentili he laid the foundations for international law, based on natural law. He was also a philosopher, theologian, Christian apologist, playwright, and poet.
Grotius's influence on international law is paramount, and is acknowledged by, for instance, the American Society of International Law, which since 1999 holds an annual series of Grotius Lectures.
In The Free Sea (Mare Liberum, published 1609) Grotius formulated the new principle that the sea was international territory and all nations were free to use it for seafaring trade. Grotius, by claiming 'free seas' (Freedom of the seas), provided suitable ideological justification for the Dutch breaking up of various trade monopolies through its formidable naval power (and then establishing its own monopoly).
England, competing fiercely with the Dutch for domination of world trade, opposed this idea and claimed That the Dominion of the British Sea, or That Which Incompasseth the Isle of Great Britain, is, and Ever Hath Been, a Part or Appendant of the Empire of that Island. William Welwod, a Scottish jurist who was the first to formulate the laws of the sea in the English language, argued against Grotius' Mare Liberum in An Abridgement of All Sea-Lawes (1613), eliciting a response from Grotius around 1615 under the title Defensio capitis quinti Maris Liberi oppugnati a Gulielmo Welwodo ("Defense of chapter five of the 'Free Oceans,' opposed by William Welwod"). In Mare clausum (1635) John Selden endeavoured to prove that the sea was in practice virtually as capable of appropriation as terrestrial territory.
As conflicting claims grew out of the controversy, maritime states came to moderate their demands and base their maritime claims on the principle that it extended seawards from land. A workable formula was found by Cornelius Bynkershoek in his De dominio maris (1702), restricting maritime dominion to the actual distance within which cannon range could effectively protect it. This became universally adopted and developed into the three-mile limit.
The dispute would eventually have important economic implications. The Dutch Republic supported the idea of free trade (even though it imposed a special trade monopoly on nutmeg and cloves in the Moluccas). England adopted the Act of Navigation (1651), forbidding any goods from entering England except on English ships. The Act subsequently led to the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–1654).
Grotius' personal motto was Ruit hora ("Time is running away"); his last words were "By understanding many things, I have accomplished nothing."